When you think of ‘hormones’, pregnancy or the menstrual cycle probably crosses your mind. The word has become nearly synonymous with moodiness, but contrary to popular belief, our hormones affect every part of our being according to Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, the author of Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything. When our hormones are imbalanced, it can throw off our everyday lives, impacting things such as sex life, sleep cycle, stress levels and much more.
In this article we’ll dive into how imbalanced hormones can disrupt our health and what can be done to help regulate them.
First things first: What exactly are hormones, you might ask? They are the chemicals that travel to different parts of the body to communicate different functions. According to the Cleveland Clinic, scientists have found “over 50 hormones in the human body.” Some of those being cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, and oxytocin. “Think of a hormone as a key, “added the clinic, “and the cells of its target tissue, such as an organ or fat tissue, as specially shaped locks. If the hormone fits the lock (receptor) on the cell wall, then it’ll work; the hormone will deliver a message that causes the target site to take a specific action.”
It’s important to note that even the most minor changes in hormone levels can result in drastic shifts to your bodily functions and may even require medical treatment.
For example, when your pancreas isn’t producing insulin properly, it can result in Type 1 Diabetes, a life-long disease that requires those diagnosed to monitor their blood-sugar levels and routinely inject themselves with insulin. While there is no discovered prevention for Type 1, as it is commonly found to run in families, Type 2 Diabetes can be prevented with nutritious eating habits, regular exercise and healthy weight management.
Female and male infertility can both be attributed to hormonal imbalances. For women, conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) cause the ovaries to overproduce the hormone androgen, which can lead to infertility. Those diagnosed with PCOS may also experience irregular menstrual cycles, abnormal hair growth, adult acne, obesity, skin tags and hair loss. Healthcare professionals recommend a healthy and nutritious diet coupled with routine exercise to manage symptoms, similar to that recommended for Type 2 Diabetes.
For men, disorders like hypothalamic dysfunction can cause infertility. This condition impacts the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, preventing them from communicating properly. Some common causes of hypothalamic dysfunction include: head trauma, excessive iron, genetic disorders, and over-exposure to radiation. Treatment for this condition is based on the exact cause. So if caused by a “hormone deficiency, hormone therapy may be recommended,” according to the Fertility Center of San Antonio.
Hormonal imbalances can also lead to loss of interest in sex for both men and women. According to Dr. Randolph, fluctuating estrogen levels and low levels of testosterone can kill libido (sexual desires), and declining dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels affect sex drive overall. For men, low testosterone levels can lead to conditions like erectile dysfunction; for women, low estrogen may cause thinning in the lining of the vagina, dryness, and atrophy.
According to Ovation Wellness, there are several ways to help balance your hormones and get your sex drive back. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, testosterone replacement therapy, MonaLisa Touch procedure, or the O-Shot are just a few options.
Another significant hormone in our bodies is cortisol. While it is widely known as the
“stress hormone,” cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that impacts nearly every organ and tissue in the body. It is responsible for regulating the body’s response to stress, sleep-wake cycles, suppressing inflammation, regulating blood pressure and sugar, and controlling metabolism. Having extremely high or extremely low cortisol levels negatively affects our health.
High levels of cortisol can cause irritability, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, severe fatigue and muscle weakness—among other symptoms. Left unmanaged, it can result in serious health conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease, according to Healthline.
A deficiency in cortisol might result in dizziness, weight loss, mood changes, and adrenal insufficiency—which can lead to adrenal crisis and, if not treated, can cause death. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “The severe lack of cortisol at these times can cause life-threatening low blood pressure, low blood glucose, low blood sodium, and high blood potassium.”
While some conditions regarding cortisol levels may require medical treatment (like Cushing’s syndrome), there are some things that you can prioritize and incorporate into your everyday routine to regulate your cortisol levels. Things like getting quality sleep, regularly working out, monitoring and/or limiting stress, and most importantly enjoying life—laugh a little. While that last one may seem insignificant, laughing “promotes the release of endorphins and suppresses cortisol,” according to Cleveland Clinic.
Our hormones play such an important and complex role in our everyday lives. So it’s important to understand how our day-to-day habits can either positively or negatively affect them and, as a result, impact our overall health. While this article only touched on a few hormones and how they impact the human body, we urge you to reach out to a trusted healthcare provider if you are experiencing any new and persistent symptoms.
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